Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Respite knitting

My adopted home state of Wisconsin has been rocked by political unrest I would have thought inconceivable a few short weeks ago.  The Japanese earthquake was bad, the tsunami worse, and the nuclear ramifications have me glued to the computer, with three or four news windows open simultaneously. The unrest all over the Middle East brings to mind high school history texts and the year 1848--"the year of revolution" in Europe.

What can I do, as a small person in this sudden upheaval, this messy world?  I read carefully, try to send donations where they will do the most good, maybe volunteer for whatever might make a small difference.

Yet I think the most important thing for me personally is to try to shield my children from this news--one is taking an important math final at University as I write this, one is basking in recent acceptance to the college of her choice, the little one is aiming to aim higher at his next science Olympiad event.

These kids will have the weight of this world on their own shoulders soon enough, soon enough. No need to burden them with all this now--boiling nuke rod pools, the possibility that household income will be substantially cut among their friends and neighbors, the effects on their friends' college choices.

Life is uncertain. On your way to the supermarket in Cairo, the revolution erupts. You wake up on a workday in Tokyo and the ground slips out from under you. The bus going downtown in your quiet Midwestern hometown is rerouted because 75,000 people--nurses, firefighters, plumbers, professors, teachers, DMV clerks--are out demonstrating, and the next day, 100,000 are out in the wind and winter weather. Modeling calmness is hard. I feel like a fake.

Thank goodness for a project in hand, for mohair and beads and lace and yarn.  For community boards and e-mails and questions about the best way to cast off. Thank goodness for knitting.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Going to Yarnover? I'll be the one in a sweatshirt (the consequences of process knitting)

Process knitting
I spend the summer in the garden, but in the winter, I spend a great deal of time knitting--not wardrobe knitting, you understand, but test knitting--trying out ideas.  

Most of the test knitting starts OUT as project knitting, yet test knitting and garment knitting don't intersect around here as much as they should. Once a technical problem has been worked out, the solution turns into a TECHknitting blog post, while the project falls into the UFO pile.

Few items larger than a hat have escaped the gravitational pull of the UFO pile in years--not since TECHknitting blog started in the knitting season of 2006. That gave me an excellent excuse for never finishing anything. Worse than that even. The blog gave me the excuse to start lots of new things to see how they'll work out. Thus adding to the pile. Sometimes on a daily basis. 

Of course, I can't pull the needles out of a work in progress, or re-purpose the rest of the yarn bought for the garment. That would be against the rules. That would be admitting defeat. Consequently, not only do I have a black-hole for garments in my UFO pile, but the pile also eats knitting needles. Meanwhile, its gravitational twin is growing from the ever-increasing stash of no-go yarn.

open loop boucle--what was
I thinking? 
Sometimes, the UFO pile grows because I've made a poor choice. I'm now working with a open-loop boucle mohair, and must have been insane to buy the yarn. WHAT was I thinking? Not that the result isn't lovely--it is, very. Yet boucle is a very bear to knit. The needle keeps catching in the loop, rather than around the strand). And of course, mohair of any kind is a very bear to unravel. Since test knitting requires plenty of both, there is no combination I could have chosen less suitable. Beautiful as it is, this one's headed for the UFO pile, and sooner rather than later.

Sometimes, test knitting goes so well that I'm tempted to recreate the garment several times--the pocket hats were like that, I think there were 7 in a row, and innumerable little felted purses have been worked up around here. Then I'm reminded of a study I once read. Turns out that making faster and bigger lawn mowers didn't reduce the time folks spent mowing. No indeed. Instead, their lawns got bigger, and they spent the same amount of time mowing, or even more. Similarly, test knitting going well translates more FO's of that one pattern, but no more progress on the UFO's, alas.

Project knitting
At the end of April, I am going out to teach my first knitting class in over twenty years--Yarnover in Minneapolis, a project of the Minnesota Knitter's Guild. All my existing wardrobe sweaters are ratty and are themselves experiments--no two arms of any one sweater have the same kind (or even same rate!) of increasing, no two socks in the for-wearing fleet have the same kind of heels, my wardrobe features mostly not-fully-successful garment designs (prototypes of sweaters either improved--long since knit and given away) or abandoned after the one prototype. In short, my wardrobe consists mainly of ratty experimental remnants--great for the supermarket, not so good for the first professional knitting outing in two decades (Lord, where does the time go?)

It is clear, is it not, that I must have a new sweater for the occasion?

I've been rummaging the UFO collection, looking for a sweater pretty near completion. Yet while there are three leading candidates, I don't hold out a lot of hope.

I-cord edging by some method
already half-forgotten
The lead contender is a giant gold/green sweater-coat, missing only a bottom trim and a zipper.  This was put aside while I cogitated on zippers and trims--I got zippers figured out, but am still messing around with new ways of attaching I-cord to fabric.  Attaching I-cord to the live loop edges was a snap, but I'm still messing around with a new trick for attaching to bound off edges. 

prototype of pleating
The second contender is a green alpaca sweater lacking only a collar and sleeves--beautiful silky material knit at 7 sts  to the inch (!!) on which I am messing around with pleating.  However, the first few pleats aren't as pretty as the pleats made last, and I suspect that there might be yet an altogether better way of doing this by a completely different method than any yet tried. The idea of wearing this experiment in front of my fellow teachers and eagle-eyed students, well... What I should do is pull out and re-do, but what I will do is probably let this wallow on the UFO pile a while longer. Or forever. As a perpetual UFO, it'd earn its keep being a pleating prototype. Some version of this pleating will probably emerge some way, some day, but this sweater? I wouldn't lay bets on it. And, do you know, I'm not worried about "wasting" the yarn either--it's so pretty that some day it's sure to earn a spot in the "better yarn" box at the estate sale. Just think how happy it will make some knitter yet unborn.

prototype of beading
The third garment is an experiment in beading by a variety of methods. The first beads put in aren't nearly as nice as the end of the job, and again, I expect there may be an altogether better way of doing this, anyhow. It's the learning curve made visible, and so, not really suitable for public wear.

Bottom line: if you'll be at Yarnover, and you see a knitting teacher in a sweatshirt?  Stop and say "hi" to me, OK?


Saturday, March 5, 2011

When two strands of yarn wound together work up unevenly

(A random Ravelry discussion triggered this post...)

PROBLEM 1--Two different fibers which feed at different rates
When two yarns of different fibers are wound off together, they might be the same LENGTH but not work up at the same RATE. A classic example is a woolen yarn wound together onto a ball with a slippery yarn: silk, perhaps. On the ball, the two yarns look fine--they are the same length, after all. Yet, once the knitting begins, so does the trouble. The wool sticks to itself as woolly wool does, while the silk is, well, you know--silky, and does not stick to anything at all.  Excess silk sags throughout the fabric, and pretty soon, a whole length of the silk yarn is sagging to leeward, between the work and the ball.

PROBLEM 2--Fibers which feed at the same rate but are wound at different rates
When two strands of yarn are wound off together but come onto the resulting ball at different tension, it causes the same problem.  The two strands may feed off at the same RATE, but they are not the same LENGTH.  Stated otherwise, they feed off at the same rate but were not put on at the same rate, making one longer than the other.  Result? The shorter strand puckers, the longer strand twists and writhes and sags.

Loose yarn throughout the fabric (loose lengths in pink)

Both problems result in similar fabric, shown above.  The pink lengths and dots highlight the looping and twisting and writhing of the longer/slipperier yarn (thinner in the illustration) throughout the fabric, as well as the uneven feed of the running yarn--an unevenness bound to get worse with every passing stitch. (Click on this or any picture to enlarge.)

If winding were eliminated in the first place--if each yarn were knit each from its own ball--then each yarn would feed at its own natural rate and length, so creating an even fabric.

But what do you do when you already have such a ball of two yarns together, either because it was wound together at a knitting shop that way, or because it came from a manufacturer that way?

You could carefully pick apart the two strands and wind each on a separate ball.  Although this works, it takes forever.  Before going to such lengths (har!) consider the two below options: in the right situation, these might save some hours.

Option 1--Stranding and solo stitches
Remove the excess by looping it up into a solo stitch, stranding the shorter yarn behind.  The loop of this solo stitch has further to travel than the stranding running behind it, so the two yarns catch up to one another.  This is the same sort of idea as stranded or Fair-Isle knitting.

Shorter yarn stranded behind solo stitch of longer yarn

On the illustration above, the thinner yarn is again the longer/slipperier one causing the trouble.  At random places in the fabric--wherever an excess loop of the thinner yarn forms in the running yarn--the shorter thicker yarn has been stranded behind the thinner yarn, and the excess thinner yarn has been concentrated into a solo single-stranded knit stitch. Concentrating the excess of the longer yarn while stranding the shorter evens up the yarns, leaving the other stitches of the fabric even. The thicker yarn, stranded behind, has been colored bright green to make visible how much shorter is its path behind the concentrated excess of the pink loop.

The actual mechanics of creating the solo stitch is simple: grab a loop of excess with your right (working) needle out of the excess longer yarn sagging between the work and the ball and knit one stitch with this excess only.  The shorter yarn will automatically strand behind when you knit the following stitch out of both yarns, although you may have to separate the two with your fingers to adjust the tension.

If a single solo stitch using the excess doesn't do it, alternate this trick with ordinary 2-strand stitches along the row until the two yarns feeding in off the ball are evened up. Alternating gives better tension (and looks better) than stranding the shorter yarn behind 2 or 3 solo stitches of the longer all in one spot.

Option 2--Twisting
Remove the excess of the longer yarn--again, the thinner yarn in the illustration below--by twisting up an extra backwards loop of this yarn onto the needle. This is the same sort of idea as a loop cast-on.  However, since you don't want to actually increase your stitch count,  place a pin or stitch marker at the excess loop to keep track of its location. On the next row or round, eliminate this excess loop by joining it back together with its "mother stitch," using the same sort of idea as a k2tog.

Excess yarn twisted up onto the needle

The illustration above shows that at random places (wherever a loop of excess forms in the running yarn), the excess--colored pink--has been removed from the fabric and concentrated in one spot by twisted up into a loop and placed on the right needle.  On the next round, this excess loop is knit together with its own "mother stitch."  Each of two lower pink excess loops have already been knitted together with their respective mother stitches, while, the new live pink excess loop just formed will be knit together with its mother stitch (the double-stranded stitch at the arrow) on the next round.

The actual mechanics of this trick involve grabbing a loop of the excess out of the running yarn with your fingers, twisting it, placing it on the right needle and marking it.

Twist variations 
The marker is shown as a safety pin, but IRL, far quicker would be several knotted loops of thin yarn kept by, each quickly caught onto the working needle when needed and constantly recycled as each excess loop is eliminated in its turn.

One easy variation to avoid having to making the stitch at all is to simply pass the twisted-up loop over the neighboring stitch to the LEFT as soon as that neighboring stitch is formed. On the downside, this uses up less excess and causes a bump, on the upside it is quick, and in many "art" yarns the bump would pass unnoticed. Passing over is pretty much the equivalent of wrapping the excess yarn around the neck of the newly formed stitch, and you could try it that way, too: passing a newly formed stitch from right needle to left needle, wrapping it with excess yarn, then returning it, wrapped, to the right needle.

A geek variation on the twisting option is to substitute an analog to the "nearly invisible increase" (NII) for the twisting, working the NII with the (pink) excess only. The NII-analog actually gets rid of more excess in each pink stitch than the twist because each excess stitch is longer. Again, though, mark the new loop to avoid inadvertently increasing the stitch count.

Which option when?  
I bought 8 cones (!!) of wool, custom-wound of three thin yarns together.  Although each yarn is the same fiber, the winding machine occasionally skipped, leaving one yarn either protruding or puckering. Stranding is the better choice in this smooth yarn because twisting would have created a lump. Yet, stranding might look odd on a reversible garment, depending on the yarn and stitch.

On an "art" yarn where the manufacturer had wound two different kinds of fiber together,  both options worked.  In fact, there were some places where the feed was so uneven that both options were obliged to be worked at the same time--the shorter yarn stranded behind a combo of a solo-stitch PLUS twisted stitch, and this combo repeated sequentially on every alternate stitch for several stitches in a row, several times a round.

You have been reading TECHknitting blog on: "uneven yarn feed"

Friday, March 4, 2011

Jogless stripes--pretty picture version (part 3 of a series)

Slip-stitch jogless stripes were the subject of a post way back in January 2007. Then in the spring of 2009, Interweave Knits published an jogless stripe article by me which included the 2007 info plus some new info about barberpole (helix) jogless stripes. The article also came with a video. With the two most recent posts, helix stripes and a link to the video have now been added to this blog, and the only part of the 2009 article not yet reproduced are some pretty pictures of slip-stitch jogless stripes.

These pictures cover the same ground as the 2007 slip-stitch jogless post--identical info--but these new pictures are prettier. Rather than mess with the original post, I'm putting them into a post of their own--maybe these prettier pictures will shed a better light than the old pictures, even though the process is identical.

* * *

Slip-stitch jogless stripes

General directions:

  • *On color change rounds, change colors by simply knitting the first stitch of the new color as you normally would knit any stitch. Next, knit the rest of the stitches to the end of the round.
  •  On the next round, slip the first stitch of the new color, then knit the rest of the stitches. On every following round, knit every stitch as usual
  •  Repeat from * every time you want to change colors.

Per the illustration below, slipping the stitch at the beginning of the second round (green arrow) pulls that first stitch of the new color up to span both first and second rounds; the last stitch of the previous color gets pulled smaller (orange arrow); and the stitch of the old color in the row below the slipped stitch gets pulled up along with the slip stitch stitch (purple arrow). These forces arrange the stitches into smaller “steps” (black arrows) lessening the contrast between the old color and the new and essentially eliminating the jog.

How the slip stitch makes the stripe jogless

Jogless slip-stitch stripes come in two types: “traveling” and “stationary.” The actual technique is as shown above, and is the same in both, the only difference is the point at which you change color.


Per the illustration below, if you choose to let the beginning of the round travel one stitch to the left with each color change (orange arrow) then every part of every row will be the same height and have the same number of stitches, and these are the traveling stripes.

Traveling jogless stripes

Here are complete step-by step directions for this type:

  •  On the round before you intend to change colors, insert a stitch marker at the place you intend to change colors.
  • *On the color change round--slip the marker, then change colors by simply starting to knit with the new color.
  •  On the following round, when you come to the marker, slip it. Then, slip the first stitch of the new color from the left needle to the right needle purlwise (ie: not twisted). Knit all the rest of the stitches of the round.  

 Knit as many rounds as you desire for the stripe, knitting every stitch. One round before your next color change, shift the marker over one stitch to the left. Make more stripes by repeating from *.

Stationary stripes

If you choose to hold the beginning of the round in the same place, then in the color-change column (orange arrow) each stripe will be one stitch shorter, and these are the stationary stripes. 

Stationary jogless stripes

Stationary, closeup

 Here are complete step-by step directions for this type:

  • On the round before you intend to change colors, insert a stitch marker at the place you intend to change colors.
  • *When you come to a color change round, slip the marker, then change colors by simply starting to knit with the new color.
  •  On the following round, when you come to the marker, slip it. Then, slip the first stitch of the new color from the left needle to the right needle purlwise (ie: not twisted) Knit the rest of the stitches of the round.

 Knit as many rounds as you desire for the stripe, knitting every stitch. Make more stripes by repeating from *.

Which stripe where?

 The advantage to traveling stripes is that every part of every round is the same height; the disadvantage is that the round beginning "travels" one stitch leftward with every color change (illustration 10) Also, with traveling stripes, a faint spiral pattern will develop along the diagonal of the color change. This spiral pattern is more obvious in heavy fabrics and less obvious in thinner fabrics, so the traveling stripes are better for thinner stripes and/or thinner wool.

 The advantage to stationary stripes is that the color change remains in the same place; the disadvantage is that at one part of each round, that round will dip one stitch lower. (illustration 12). With thin stripes, and/or in thin wool, you'd soon have substantially fewer stitches along this column, so the fabric might start to "pull" along that column of stitches. However, with thick wool (5 st/in or fewer) and/or thicker stripes, this isn't an issue because knitting stretches enough to solve the problem. Therefore, stationary stripes are best for thick wool and/or thick stripes.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Helix (barberpole) stripes, part 2 of a jogless stripe series

Helix or barberpole stripes are completely jogless, and, unlike nearly every other method of jogless stripes* may be made as narrow as a single row. Although this makes them incredibly useful in the right situation, they are somewhat of a pain to knit, which is why they probably aren't seen more often.

In their classic form,barberpole stripes are 1 row high, and usually 3 or 4 colors. Each stripe starts at a different point on the garment, then the stripes chase one another around the spiral architecture of the knitted garment, like the stripes on an old-fahioned barber pole. Because of this arrangement into spiral layers, the colors never meet on the same level, so there is no jog.

Barberpole stripes are usually made on double pointed needles (dpn’s). Here’s the ...

How to
  • Suppose we want three single-color stripes, as in the above photo. For three stripes, we'll use three needles for the work and a fourth to knit around. 
  • To determine the number to cast on, divide the total number of stitches by the total number of colors. Example: our little tube has 36 stitches and three colors, red, white and blue: 36÷3=12 stitches of each color. 
  • Onto needle 1, using white, cast on 1/3 the total number of stitches (12, in our example) Repeat onto needle 2 with blue and again onto 3 with red: 36 total stitches cast on, three needles with 12 stitches on each. If your total stitch count is not evenly divisible by your number of needles, no big deal—within a couple of stitches is OK. 
  • Choose your color arrangement: once chosen, it can never change--the same colors will chase one another around and around the spiral for the entire knitting of the garment. 

  • In the above illustration, the work began with each needle cast on with a different color.  Then, the white yarn was knit over the red, the red over the blue, and the blue over the white. In the next round the blue yarn was knitted over the white, the white over the red, and the red over the blue. Once the order is established, you simply pick up the yarn at the beginning of each needle and work until you come to the next color.
Tips and tricks 
  • No need to twist the stitches together: the different colors lay over one another, not next to one another
  • Consider using bobbins to avoid tangling
  • In theory, you can make spirals of more colors by using more needles. In practice, the steepness of the spiral and the tangling of the running yarns makes 4-5 colors the utmost practical limit, and really, two or three colors will prove challenging enough.
  • For a fabric with a single contrast color stripe, say, white with every 4th row blue (photo below) here’s how: Prepare 3 white bobbins and one of blue, then knit the whole works off 4 needles, working around with a fifth.  Knit each bobbin of white sequentially and individually, just as you would if using different colors. 

Better transitions using a"transition needle"

The above instructions segregate each color to its own needle, and this is easy to understand (and illustrate!) However, in real life, having several bobbins hanging off at different place would lead to tangling. Also, always changing colors at the same spot might create ladders. Finally, dropping the yarn and picking up a new one at the end of every needle makes for a very choppy knitting rhythm--not restful at all. In order to avoid these problems, here is a trick--
  • Once the pattern is established, choose one needle to be the “transition needle.” Knit each color almost all the way around the round, stopping three stitches from the previous color, on the "transition needle." 

  • In the above illustration, the blue stripe has just been finished three stitches from the end of the previous white round. Similarly, the white round finished three stitches from the red round, and the red, three stitches from the previous blue round. Now find the running yarn “lowest down and furthest out,” here, the red yarn picked out with the green arrow. Drop the blue running yarn to the front of the work, then slip the intervening stitches (black arrows) from left needle to right, purlwise (not twisted). 

  • The above illustration shows the six marked stitches as they have been slipped onto the right needle.  This frees the "lowest down and furthest out" yarn--the red running yarn--so you can knit the next almost-complete round with it. 
  • You would now knit with the red yarn, stopping three stitches from the end of the blue round. After knitting the red yarn, the next following round would be a white round, to be knitted with the white running yarn picked out by the green arrow in illustration 7. 
  • This transition shortcut works on magic loop and circular needles, also. 
  • Because the stopping point of the yarn is always moving backwards in your knitting, you avoid the ladders which would form if you always switched at the same spot, and you avoid the need for markers in magic loop or circular knitting. Of course, with dpn’s, you will have to re-arrange the stitches by slipping them around on your needles every few rounds in order to keep a roughly even number on each, but this is all to the good, as it also helps avoid ladders. 
  • As you can see from the comments, some knitters do not stop short, but knit all the way around to the very stitch where the previous yarn ended.  When I try that, I get tension strangeness, but knitting is SO different in different hands, so experiment: try stopping short as illustrated, but maybe also try knitting each round to the bitter end, and see which way works better for you!
  • When you end the work, space the colors out again as you did at cast on (one color per needle, lined up over the original round) so that the bind-off matches.
* * *
This is part 2 of a TECHknitting series on jogless stripes, based on an article which originally appeared in "Beyond the Basics," Interweave Knitting Magazine, Summer '09

The first post in this series, which features a video of various stripes, including barberpole stripes, is here.

If you would like to see a different blogger's take on barberpole stripes, have a look at Grumperina's posts on the subject featuring, among other things, a pair of helical-knit socks

Good knitting--TK

*Addendum 2016:  If you need to knit SINGLE ROUND STRIPES where each stripe is a DIFFERENT COLOR, then a different technique will work better: have a look at this post on "Smoothed Circles."